Grief, loss, and suffering are inevitable aspects of life. We dread terrible things - the death of a loved
one, a family member disappearing into addiction, the loss of a relationship AND, in the midst of suffering, we often try to run away from our feelings, to push them down, drown them, hide them, and force ourselves along our path ahead.
This workshop is about :
1. Acknowledging suffering
2. Processing and "riding the wave" of suffering
3. Imaging Hope for the Future.
My name is Janine, and I am a counsellor and art therapist. I work with kids and youth (including adults and end of life) and I support people through difficulties. You may do this workshop at home! Take care, as this may bring up powerful emotions, and you may wish to have a friend or trusted person there with you, like an art therapist or counsellor.
You will need:
-Paper, canvas, canvas board or other surface for your Phoenix project.
-A picture of a Phoenix to draw onto your surface.
-pencils, pencil crayons, paints, felts, crayons/pastels, etc.
Here we go!
What is a Phoenix?
A phoenix is a mythological creature- not real but a fantastical creature. The Phoenix is immortal or lives forever, yet it does experience suffering and death, only to be reborn again from it’s own ashes.
The Phoenix is a symbol of hope, and is a metaphor for rebirth after suffering. Where have you encountered them before? Harry Potter?
The Phoenix Life Cycle
The Phoenix is born
The Phoenix grows up and celebrates it’s own beauty and life
The Phoenix eventually DOES Suffer – through combustion (flames and fire) it “dies"
But then, when all hope seems lost, the Phoenix is reborn again out of the ashes-still the same, yet new, different, with more experience and wisdom.
Suffering is an Important Part Of Life
Suffering, pain and sadness is.... hard, right? Sometimes life can seem dark, bleak, awful, hopeless, and even maybe not worth living. The Phoenix is a metaphor for the suffering that humans have in life. I do not wish suffering on anyone! Only, suffering is a part of life. There is no running away from suffering. It is what makes us human, and what makes us beautiful. I’ve suffered. You’ve suffered, and sometimes parts of us seem like they have died.
For example: take Anne. Anne is suffering. Recently her dog was hit by a truck and killed. She has known that dog her entire life – 14 years. She has lost her best friend, the friend that comforted her when her Grandmother died, the friend who always listened to her, the friend who slept beside her at night, who cuddled her when her parents would fight and argue. Anne feels like there is a great big hole in her life, and that she will never be happy again, and she wised she had never had her dog at all, because she is in so much pain now. What stage of the Phoenix life cycle in Anne in? Yes, the suffering and death phase.
ART MAKING 1/3 : The Ashes
Now for the 1st part of the art project. This initial phase focuses on the lower bottom part of the surface. The lower part represents our suffering or the "ashes" of the Phoenix life cycle. First, I want you to keep in mind how you have suffered. Is there something that is still causing you to suffer today? Now, in your mind, think about what colours your suffering looks like? Perhaps your suffering looks like dark navy blue, or gray, or black, for example. What images come to mind? Maybe a withered plant, for example, or a lonely fish. Anything! Be true to Yourself and honor what your suffering looks like to you. Now let’s fill up this bottom part.
Get the colours that match your suffering, and paint. Sink into your feelings and allow them to come out through your art. When done -don't stop- move onto the next part of the workshop.
Suffering Makes Us Human
To illustrate what I mean by this, let’s talk about Fred. Fred has only ever had good things happen to him. He has never suffered, his family is “perfect.” He is always happy. Everything is always sunshine and rainbows. OK. Now Fred is walking along, and he sees Anne. Anne is still suffering. Now, do you think Fred can understand and relate to her? Why not?
That’s right. Since Fred has never suffered, he cannot compute what Anne is going through. Therefore, he cannot help her, support her, empathize with her, cry tears with her, comfort her, etc. What does that make Fred, does anyone know? Fred is a psychopath – psychopaths are people that don’t feel, they can’t recognize others pain, and they don’t care anyway.
Fred, in his happy go-lucky world is ignorant and lacks depth of character. He lacks humanity. He is like a robot (one without feelings programmed). So suffering makes us human.
Suffering Will Not Last Forever
Suffering and grief can go on for days, months, or even years. And then, like the Phoenix, when all hope seems lost, we find a light, a spark of something positive, and we find a way back to life again – we are not the same after we have suffered, we are different, we are born again, but with more life experience. Now, our pain never goes away entirely, but we learn to live with it, alter it, work with it, express it, create with it, and share it, and move forward.
Life is like this line------------ it is always moving ahead. We are here a lot of the time. Then the something good happens, we get a 90% on a Math test, or we catch a big fish, or Mom brings home a pizza, these good things pull the line up. Then maybe the line goes down again, and then perhaps something awful happens that hurts us, and we suffer, like we have an argument with our best friend, and the line goes down a little. Or perhaps something really bad happens, like someone we love hurts us badly, or a family member passes away, for example. Here we suffer, we grieve, we see little hope. Now time passes, and perhaps we eventually get back to our “normal.” You will NEVER be the same, you are changed by your grief, yet life can still go on.
Then, perhaps, something really good happens, the girl you have a crush on likes you back, and you go get ice cream and laugh together. Your spirit soars. And because you have suffered, you and her are able to have a deep conversation that is human, and you experience TRUE connection. You are elated!
Now why am I telling you this? I want you to know that EVERYONE experiences the "roller coaster of life," and that NO ONE EMOTION or CIRCUMSTANCE will last forever. AND I also want you to know that your suffering serves to make you in more aware, appreciative, understanding, worldly, empathetic and well-rounded human being. Trust that you are going through this for a reason and be sure to take care of yourself.
Nurture and Care For Yourself
Remember Anne? Right so, since her friend Fred could not help her, Anne continued to suffer. Yet, after some time passes, she decides to make some changes. Anne starts to nurture and care for herself again. She takes baths, and listens to music. Anne eats healthy vegetables and fruits, and cares for her hurting heart. She talks to friends and trusted people. She seeks help from a counsellor. Anne takes walks again. She goes to comedy films with friends and watches funny videos on YouTube of cute animals. Anne learns to love herself and her life again, and builds strength slowly.
ART MAKING 2/3: Coming Alive Again
The Phoenix is being born again, and is in need of self-care, healing, and strength to come fully alive. Think about these questions: What does rebirth, new life, and strength look like? If STRENGTH was a colour, What colour would that be? What forms, shapes, and figures does “rebirth” or “hope” represent? Allow your feelings to come through your art and create and colour the Phoenix body. Image you are gaining strength and allow the beauty and splendor of the Phoenix to reignite passion and love and joy inside of you.
We Can Create Beauty from our Suffering
Then one day Anne feels inspired to pull out all the items and photographs that remind her of the dog she lost. She starts to make a collage of photographs of all the good times she had with her dog, and she begins to feel a little better. Anne painted, and decorated her collage. She frames it and puts it up in her room. She created something beautiful from her pain, and creating the artwork helped Anne to PROCESS her sadness. She understood that, while she will forever miss her dog, she loved that dog so greatly, and has cherished memories that she will always hold dear. She has more understanding now when others lose pets, and has an understanding of what it might be like to lose a person, or a relationship. She is more aware now. She has hope and faith in the future again. She can appreciate life a little more now than she did before. Like an egg, she has been cracked open a bit more to love.
Do you think Anne would have been better off not having the dog in the first place (so she wouldn’t feel hurt like she is now)? No. Anne would have missed out on the love and beauty of that special relationship she had.
Could Anne have skipped the suffering, and simply jumped right to the part where she feels acceptance for her dog’s death, and happy about the good memories? Could she have skipped the sadness? No. Unless Anne is a psychopath, or a robot, she IS going to feel. She will feel the shock, sadness, loss, trauma and grief. And she should allow herself to feel pain. It’s natural. And, yes, this may take time.
Art making is one of those ways that we can FEEL our emotions, externalize or EXPRESS them, and start to heal ourselves.
ART MAKING 3/3: Hope for our Future
Now that we are moving onto the "hope" part of our Phoenix art project, think again about your suffering. How has it made you a stronger, more understanding and beautiful human being? Think of Anne, and how she was better able to understand others more, or that she learned to appreciate life and special moments a bit more, and that she grew thankful to have the special relationship with her dog- even though it is now ended. What hope can you imagine for yourself, despite your suffering? What colours come to mind? What forms? What shapes?
What dreams do you have? What future awaits you?
What did you think of this project? How do you feel? What did you get out of this project? What will you do with you finished piece?
Thank you for participating in this.
Please connect with me if you require a follow up or additional support: firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Kids Help Phone -1-888-668-6868 or, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, dial emergency services (911 in North America).
Love To You All :)
P.S. You have my permission to use this blog in your own work, share it on your website, add it to your research paper...whatever! AS LONG AS you cite me. Also, some of the drawings are not mine, and I've cited the websites where they were found.